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A Hopeless Race

Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “If any human being really looked at the true state of existence in the world, they would immediately cut their hair and become a monk or nun, and only practice.” In situations when I quote this to people, just a few times per year, you sometimes see a crinkled visage or sour expression, as if something crazy or radical or “over-the-top” or “out-of-order” had been said. Especially when this penetrating insight is transmitted from the mouth of a monk, people feel already feel that some radical “path” or “vocation” is being privileged over other paths like householder-life or raising children with care and compassion and intelligence.

Yet, if you were a person who had no choice but to live and work in a building filled to the ceiling with bombs and flammable liquids, among co-workers who smoked and lit fireworks mindlessly, a fireman at the doorway who urges on you a fireman’s suit with full breathing apparatus would seem to be reasonable, even compassionate, by comparison — heroic, in fact. You would be eminently grateful to the soul who offered that survival gear to you. I know that I am so, and remain still, the the firewomen and firemen of Sangha who have made such efforts to point me out the door.

So, Zen Master Seung Sahn’s admonition seems so unduly harsh and fatalistic. But then, when you express something along the lines of this meme, people seem to “get” it:

The difference between this borderline-nihilistic meme and Zen Master Seung Sahn’s bold insight is one of “efficacy”: Knowing the situation is totally fucked (and will get increasingly fucked), and that there’s no exit-door from it anywhere, there is only the admonition to make a bold effort to absolve the matter, to fully attain its truth and help others out of the fireball of delusive-thinking, too. For the majority of people, the reply to such a stuck-dilemma is merely automatic reversion to accustomed forms of cheap escape: distraction (TV, phone, computer whatever) and intoxication (alcohol/drugs, shopping, “success”, endless clubbing and raves, etc.). This is a predictable arc in our dopamine-driven existence.

But there is another path: Zen Master Seung Sahn and all great teachers point straight to the 100% efficacious methodologies of hacking the “mind” that suffers this world, that makes this suffering world in the first place: non-stop practice, attaining True Nature, serving all beings, without regard to dogma or cant, theology or philosophy or even “ethics”.

Scary shit. But it is the only way.

Get on your fireman’s suit, now — or things will only get much, much worse for you. Any sort of “god” is not going to help you, because it CAN’T help you. There is no “saint” or Mother to “intercede” for you. But there’s still time to practice. And you don’t really need to become a nun or monk: We have the great fortune to be living in times when it is possible to have “monastic-training”, at least in extended retreats, that will equip you for the fires that consume everything totally.

But better do it now. Civilization and society cannot help you — only attaining our True Self, each one of us.

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